UEFA Champions League Last 16 First Leg 22/2/17
Sevilla 2(Sarabia 25, Correa 62) Leicester City 1 (Vardy 73)
It’s amazing how one goal can completely change a tie and possibly even a season. Jamie Vardy’s 73rd minute strike may or may not prove crucial for the second leg, but the lift it gave to the players, manager and fans may be vital in the relegation battle Leicester find themselves in.
There’s no doubt 2017 has been horrendous for the foxes so far. No league goals and dreadful performances against struggling teams like Swansea and Southampton have seen Leicester plummet to 17th in the league, just a point above the relegation zone. Even morale boosting FA Cup victories over Everton and Derby were merely pre-cursors to a humiliating defeat against 10-man, 3rd division Millwall. The optimism from the Champions League draw in December had almost completely collapsed, with many of the foxes faithful fearing for a repeat of the 5-0 drubbing in the final group game in Porto.
Sevilla were arguably even more daunting opposition. The Spanish giants currently sit third in La Liga and only Real Madrid (who’s 40 match unbeaten run ended in Seville in January) have a better record at home.Los Blanquirrojos nearly confirmed every Leicester fans fears early on, midfielder Pablo Sarabia bending a shot just over the bar and Christian Fuchs almost heading past his own goalkeeper. Much has been made about the weakness of the foxes back four in the last few weeks and it didn’t take long for panic to set in again. A poor header from Robert Huth, then a botched clearance from the German and Fuchs lead to a poor sliding tackle from Wes Morgan on Joaquin Correa, one of the most blatant penalties you will ever see. Correa stepped up but his spot kick was unconvincing and Kasper Schmeichel guessed correctly to save his first competitive penalty in 4 years. One get out of jail free card used after only 15 minutes. Schmeichel was called into action again a few minutes later, palming away a well struck shot from Sergio Escudero.
Leicester failed to make the most of their lifelines though and fell behind in the 25th minute. Lazy play from Ahmed Musa allowed Escudero to cross, with Sarabia guiding home an inch perfect header, against the post and in, 1-nil. It was almost two moments later, former Manchester City striker Stefan Jovetic’s shot taking a huge deflection off Huth, Schmeichel well placed to tip it over the bar. The Dane frustrated Correa again just before half-time, palming away another powerful low shot from the young Argentinian. City would’ve been thankful to make it to half time only a goal down, no shots on goal and less than 30% possession.
The one-way traffic remained much the same after the break, Sarabia firing just wide from the edge of the box and Vitolo only denied by Schmeichel’s near post, almost an embarrassment in a fantastic performance from the City shot stopper. However, neither Kasper or the post could deny Sevilla for much longer and they finally doubled their lead in the 62nd minute. A long ball over the top was controlled beautifully by Jovetic before the Montenegrin calmly flicked the ball to Correa who slammed home.
Sevilla’s celebrations implied it was game over, but Leicester quietly fought back. Demari Gray’s introduction for the woeful Musa was key, as the foxes started to look much calmer on the ball. Danny Drinkwater and Wilfred Ndidi threatened with long range strikes before the momentous breakthrough after 73 minutes. A neat one-two between Gray and Drinkwater sent the latter through on the left-hand side. The England international produced an absolutely perfect ball across goal and Jamie Vardy gleefully blasted it into the roof of Sergio Rico’s net. A priceless away goal for the foxes, Vardy’s first goal in the Champions League and his first since December. The 3000 strong travelling fans ( and even more considering City fans in the home end) finally had something to celebrate and in fairness they were amazing all night, even long after the game and amongst several alleged attacks by the heavy handed Spanish police.
There was still time for Sevilla to almost snatch another, Schmeichel was on top form again to block Vitolo’s far post header and then the crossbar denied centre-back Adil Rami. Another header, another close call, but Leicester held on to the narrow defeat. I doubt a loss has ever been celebrated more, but the 2-1 score line leaves the tie wide open and if Leicester can repeat their 1-0 group stage wins against Porto and Copenhagen in the second leg, the quarter finals will beckon. More importantly though, they have to get some points on the board in the league, with tough games against Liverpool and Hull coming up.
Sevilla: Rico 6, Filho 6, Rami 6, Lenglet 5 (Carrico 55, 5), Escudero 7, N’Zonzi 7, Nasri 6, Sarabia 8, Correa 7 (Iborra 63, 5), Perez 6, Jovetic 7
Leicester: Schmeichel 8.5 MOTM, Fuchs 5, Morgan 4, Huth 5, Simpson 6, Mahrez 6, Drinkwater 7, Ndidi 7, Albrighton 6 (Amartey 88, 5), Musa 3 (Gray 58, 7), Vardy 8
Man of the Match: Kasper Schmeichel
Referee:Clément Turpin 9, fantastic referee, let the game flow very well
Attendance: 38, 834